Sunday , July 21 2024

Tharp Taking Joel to Broadway

I hope she picks the good ones – nothing after about ’85:

    [Twyla] Tharp, who has created some of the most innovative and popular work in contemporary dance since she formed her first company in 1965, has conceived, choreographed and directed “Movin’ Out,” a dance musical based on 31 songs by Billy Joel. It opens on Oct. 24 at the Richard Rodgers Theater.

    ….Ms. Tharp has always been interested in choreographing to pop music. She shook up the dance world in 1973 when she made “Deuce Coupe” for the Joffrey Ballet, with music of the Beach Boys, and she has set dances to music by David Byrne, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and Supertramp. A few years ago, while working with her five-member company on some Billy Joel songs, Ms. Tharp hatched the idea “to do a big production,” she said in July in Chicago, where “Movin’ Out” was having a 10-week pre-Broadway tryout.

    The plan was to use Mr. Joel’s music to create not just a dance concert or a revue along the lines of “Fosse” or “Jerome Robbins’s Broadway,” but “a narrative that had a through line, that could build to a second act,” said Ms. Tharp, 61, a small woman with owlish glasses and a no-nonsense manner.

    “Rather than go to a ballet company to mount this, or to the Met,” she said, “I decided we’ll go to Broadway because I think that’s the kind of house where the audience will feel more comfortable.”

    For Mr. Joel, the idea was intriguing if unexpected. When Ms. Tharp invited him to view a small sample of her work, “I wasn’t sure what I was going to see,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “I had this idea of guys prancing in tutus, that I wouldn’t like it and I’d have to think of something to say that wouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings.” Instead, he liked what he saw and immediately gave Ms. Tharp permission to use any and all of his music without restriction.

    Theatergoers might imagine that a Twyla Tharp show using Billy Joel songs would be some combination of “Mamma Mia!,” whose characters sing well-known hits by the Swedish pop group Abba, and “Contact,” in which a drama unfolds not in words but in dances to popular recordings. But “Movin’ Out” doesn’t look like either of those shows. For one thing, there is a full 10-piece rock band onstage playing the music live and led by a Billy Joel sound-alike, Michael Cavanaugh. With the musicians stationed on a platform overhead, the dancers perform a series of story ballets on the stage floor.

    The narrative begins in 1967 with “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant,” and the show follows characters named Eddie, Brenda, Tony, James and Judy through the Vietnam War and its aftermath, up to the present, using some of Mr. Joel’s best-known songs, including “Uptown Girl,” “River of Dreams,” “Just the Way You Are” and, of course, “Movin’ Out.” There is no spoken dialogue.

Moving chronologically, disc 1 of the Greatest Hits is totally solid – not a turd in the bunch, with The Stranger being one of the best albums of the ’70s: densely tuneful, thoughtful, dramatic, moving, tremendous. And earlier hits, “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” and “New York State of Mind,” are classics. But alas, it was a long slow decline from there. Disc 2 is still solid, but when your best new songs are essentially novelty numbers (“Uptown Girl,” “Longest Time”), you can hear the dark knock on the door.

Moving on to Greatest Hits 3, there is literally nothing I would ever want to hear – a drastic decline into pop dotage.

1. Keeping the Faith
2. Innocent Man
3. Matter of Trust
4. Baby Grand
5. This Is the Time
6. Leningrad
7. We Didn’t Start the Fire
8. I Go to Extremes
9. And So It Goes
10. Downeaster “Alexa”
11. Shameless
12. All About Soul [Remix] 13. Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)
14. River of Dreams
15. To Make You Feel My Love
16. Hey Girl
17. Light as the Breeze

I mean ick – I can’t even remember what any of these songs sound like other than “Keeping the Faith” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” which I don’t like, at all.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted,, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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